break cover

Thief (series)

Thief is a series of first-person computer games where the player takes the role of Garrett, a thief in a fantasy/steampunk world resembling a cross between the Late Middle Ages and the Victorian era, with some primitive technology thrown in. The series consists of Thief: The Dark Project (1998), Thief II: The Metal Age (2000) and Thief: Deadly Shadows (2004). An expanded version of Thief: The Dark Project, titled Thief Gold, was released in 1999 and features three extra maps and several bug fixes.

Looking Glass Studios developed both The Dark Project and The Metal Age. After the studio went out of business in 2000, many former employees moved to Ion Storm Austin and began developing the long-anticipated third part of the series, Deadly Shadows.

Style of play

The main tactic of Thief is to avoid fights and instead sneak around the enemies. Thief is sometimes described as either a "first-person sneaker", "sneak-em-up" or a "first-person looter" to emphasize this difference. Classification of the game has been slow coming, as three-dimensional stealth games, such as Splinter Cell (released in 2002) for example, only became more common years after the first Thief.

Another innovation introduced by Thief is the careful use of sound effects as an integral part of gameplay. Sound cues not only tell the player of other characters in the vicinity, but also indicate how much noise Garrett makes when moving about an area. Too much noise can alert nearby guards, who will grow suspicious and come looking for intruders. There are a variety of tactics to avoid being heard, however, such as walking gently, steering clear of noisy pavement, or using moss arrows to create a carpet that muffles the sound of footsteps.

In a similar vein, lighting became one of the most important strategies. A gauge at the bottom of the screen (called the 'Light Gem') indicates how visible the protagonist is. Entering deeper shadows or ducking makes the character less likely to be noticed. Walking about increases the risk of being spotted, and having a sword or bow drawn makes him very conspicuous in the game. The astute player is constantly keeping an eye on areas of light or shadow in case a hiding place is needed in a hurry, guard patrol routes, and the type of terrain they're walking on. A light source, such as a torch or a gas lamp, can be doused with a Water Arrow, creating an area of darkness in which the player may hide in. Electrically powered lights, as introduced in Thief II: The Metal Age, may simply be shut off by using a nearby switch or button; however, if no light switch is available, the electrical light will not turn off by simply shooting a Water Arrow at it. In Thief: Deadly Shadows, the player can simply 'pinch out' a lit candle by pressing the use button on it. A guard or any civilian may notice if a light source has been put out, likewise if something valuable has been stolen.

The games

Thief: The Dark Project

Released by Looking Glass Studios in 1998, and powered by their own in-house developed Dark engine, Thief: The Dark Project was in many ways a revolutionary title. Although it utilized a first person perspective, it was not an action-oriented shooter like almost all other first person games. Instead, the emphasis was on stealth: The character was not particularly agile nor a skilled fighter, and much of the gameplay involved using shadows to avoid enemies. However, for those who desire action, there are weapons available that allow direct confrontation. A skilled player can often break cover and go head-to-head with the enemies. An even more skilled player can stay in cover and never let the enemies know that he was there.

The game's original gameplay quickly developed a cult following.

Thief Gold

Thief Gold is a re-release of Looking Glass Studios' Thief: The Dark Project computer game.

In addition to various bug fixes, Thief Gold added three new levels which contributed significantly to the existing plot. The package also contained the DromEd Thief editor as well as a behind-the-scenes "making of" video.

Looking Glass was working on a similar re-release of Thief II: The Metal Age, provisionally entitled "Thief II Gold", at the time they went out of business in 2000.

Thief II: The Metal Age

Looking Glass Studios released the sequel to Thief in 2000. Utilizing the same Dark engine that powered the original Thief, Thief II had an almost identical look and feel, with only minor graphical and programming improvements, such as flowing lava. The basic gameplay was also fundamentally similar to the original Thief, but many new elements had been added, including technological gadgets such as a remote eye camera. Other changes include an increase in the number of AI behaviors, and the addition of female guards and soldiers.

Responding to criticisms of the original Thief, in that more time was spent on combat than actually living up to the title of the game, the missions in Thief II were designed much more around typical thief-like behavior, and much of the game is spent robbing the rich denizens of the City rather than battling monsters. In fact, the player encounters almost none of the monsters from the original Thief except for burrick (dinosaur-like creatures) heads mounted as trophies in some of the mansions, a few zombies, undead and ghostly apparitions. The designers stated that unlike the original Thief, where levels were developed to suit the plot, in Thief II levels were designed first and making the plot work with them was somewhat of a retrofit.

Thief: Deadly Shadows

A major departure from the first two games in the series, Thief: Deadly Shadows was developed by Ion Storm rather than Looking Glass Studios (albeit with many of the same people). The game was powered by the Unreal-based Deus Ex: Invisible War engine. Unlike the original two titles, the third Thief game was developed simultaneously for the PC and the Xbox.

Because of all these factors, Thief: Deadly Shadows (Ion Storm decided not to name the game "Thief III" for fear that it would alienate console gamers who had never played the previous two titles) was different from the first two games in the series in both appearance and gameplay.

One of the game's major new features was the ability to explore the City. While previous games sent Garrett straight from mission to mission, Thief: Deadly Shadows allows him to walk the City streets between missions where he can steal from passersby, spy on the townspeople's daily lives, and search for sidequests in addition to major story missions. Unlike games such as Grand Theft Auto III, the city is not one large continuous map, but rather several small neighborhood maps connected by load zones (similar to Postal²). The game also introduced an ability to switch between first and third person views, and to flatten against walls.

Game editing

With the release of DromEd, a map editor, an active community of fans began providing a wealth of home-grown missions for the first two games. Hundreds of fan missions for these games have been created, some equally or more complex than the original game missions. A few of these were so successful that their creators were invited to work with Ion Storm Austin on Thief: Deadly Shadows.

After a letter-writing campaign by fans, an editor was released for Deadly Shadows in February, 2005.

Thief IV

A fourth Thief title was in pre-production at Ion Storm Austin (from late 2004 – early 2005) before its closure. Information on the game, and a piece of early concept art showing Garrett in modern clothing were released by two former developers, who revealed that the game was planned to be a modern reboot of the series.

A recruitment posting on Eidos-Montréal's website hinted that a Thief IV may be in development. The post stated: "Eidos-Montréal is proud to announce the recruitment for our 2nd 'AAA' project. A hint! The title begins with the letter 'T'."


The Thief series follows the exploits of Garrett, a master thief living and working in a steampunk metropolis constantly being fought over by a corrupt aristocracy, an order of religious fanatics and a horde of vengeful woodland beings, all under the eye of a secret organization.

The Keepers

The Keepers are an ancient sect of expert observers, dedicated to preserving balance in the world. Garrett once belonged to the organization and still makes use of the skills learned as a Keeper for his own clandestine purposes. Even though Garrett refuses further involvement with the Keepers, they inevitably manipulate him into acting out their prophecies and obscure designs in all three games.

The Keepers are revealed in greater detail in Thief: Deadly Shadows as the player explores their organization and what it guards.

The Order of the Hammer

The Order of the Hammer is a technocratic religious group, also known as the Hammerites. They seek to carry out the vision of the Master Builder, their architect god, (who created and cultivated the earth with his hammer) and are the burning force of progress in the Thief world. They represent Order and Orthodox religion and zealously enforce the tenets of their faith, striving ceaselessly against criminals and other law-breakers but most especially against their long-time enemies, the Trickster-worshipping Pagans, who promote chaos and distortion.

The Mechanists

The Mechanists (Sometimes called the Order of the Gear) were an off-shoot from the Hammerite religion. Preaching "The New Scripture of the Master Builder", the Mechanists were led by a former Hammerite priest named Karras, who was not only a genius but also a psychopath. Unlike the Hammerites whose worship of law and order extended primarily to the construction of buildings and utilities within The City, the Mechanists more fully embraced the notion of technological progress and disregarded morality; throughout the entirety of Thief II: The Metal Age, Garrett encounters numerous steam-based creations of theirs, including mechanical spiders and clockwork sentinels. The unraveling of Karras' plots plays a dominant role in that game. It should be noted that not all Hammerites left the original Church of the Hammer to become Mechanists as can be seen in the second level of Thief II (Shipping...and Receiving) when the player can overhear a currently practicing Hammerite discussing his Mechanist brethren in a less-than-brotherly manner. The Mechanists despise the Pagans.

The Pagans

The Pagans (also referred to as the Order of the Vine) represent the forces of nature and chaos in the Thief world. As nature worshippers who live in the deep forests away from the City, the Pagans shun technology and live in harmony with wild, supernatural creatures. They despise the ordinary people of the City, and are completely inimical to Hammerites and the offshoot Mechanists. The Pagans speak in a peculiar English dialect, often adding a "-sie" to the end of several words (i.e. "good" becomes "goodsie").

The Pagan deity, the Trickster, and the facts surrounding their resurgence are central to the plot of Thief: The Dark Project.

Recurring Characters

Information on non-recurring characters may be found in Thief: The Dark Project, Thief II: The Metal Age and Thief: Deadly Shadows

  • Garrett: The protagonist of the series. A cynical, highly disciplined master thief who only wishes to be left alone to steal in peace, but who unwittingly becomes embroiled in a series of epic events. As a child, Garrett was recruited into the Keepers but later rebelled against their secretive, hierarchical ways. He left the mysterious organization, went into business for himself as a thief, and now uses his Keeper skills to steal from the rich and give to himself. Garrett comes across as cold and ruthless, but also seems to have a professional pride and will only kill when absolutely necessary. He is even a caring and warm person to those whom he regards as friends, like Viktoria (during the Metal Age) and Artemus, although not overtly. In Thief: Deadly Shadows a large scar runs down one side of his face, the result of Viktoria plucking out one of his eyes in Thief: The Dark Project. During the second and third games Garrett sees with a mechanical eye, a piece of Mechanist technology given to him by the Hammerites at the end of The Dark Project. The mechanical eye incorporates a zoom lens. At the end of Thief: Deadly Shadows, Garrett catches hold of a small child trying to pick his pocket, and their conversation is almost identical to that between Artemus and child Garrett, concluding the series (roughly) where it began.
  • Keeper Artemus: The Keeper who took the young Garrett in and taught him in Thief : The Dark Project. Artemus is the main point of contact between Garrett and the Keepers throughout the series and attempts to enlist his help with the various Keeper prophecies. He holds genuine affection for Garrett, in spite of Garrett's rejection of the Keeper ways, and carries a strong independent and rebellious streak of his own. Artemus also appears to be the only Keeper whose stealth skills rival Garrett's and occasionally manages to sneak up on him.
  • Keeper Orland: A member of the Keeper organization with a strong dislike of Garrett. Orland eventually becomes the leader of the Keepers in Thief: Deadly Shadows. His leadership quickly proves officious, bureaucratic, and secretive, and Garrett quickly learns to dislike him. He first appeared in Thief II: The Metal Age, albeit voiced by a different actor.
  • Viktoria: Apparently a wood sprite ("wood nymph" in Deadly Shadows, where she is only mentioned) or similar magical creature in human form, she was a primary antagonist during the events of the Dark Project. However, in Metal Age she and her followers become allies for Garrett's war on the Mechanists. While listing her as a romantic interest for Garrett would be inaccurate it is clear that she was able to gain Garrett's respect, even to the point of Garrett being willing to defend her directly. It seems that this degree of respect and general sentiment on Garrett's part is only seen in his relationship with Viktoria.
  • Interpreter Caduca: An old woman in the Keeper organization in charge of reading and interpreting the Glyph Prophecies. Prophecies are central to the Keepers' work, so Caduca plays a very important role in the organization, and even the Keeper leader listens to her advice. In reality, Caduca is actually relatively young. Prolonged exposure to the Glyphs causes accelerated aging, an effect which limits the amount of knowledge and power any single Keeper can obtain from studying the Glyphs. The word caduca is Portuguese for "old".
  • Translator Gamall: Caduca's assistant, an eerie pale and emotionless girl who translates Caduca's interpretations into English. As the Translator, Gamall will succeed Caduca as interpreter when Caduca is no longer able to fulfill her duties. The word Gamall is close to "gammal", the Scandinavian word for "old", which was reused by J.R.R. Tolkien.
  • "Benny": A recurring drunkard guard whose mood swings and amusing ramblings endeared him to many fans of the series. The name is informal, but comes from a specific drunken guard in the Sheriff's mansion during the Metal Age. The character's voice is used for a number of different guards throughout the series. In Thief: Deadly Shadows he is at one point called "Sinclair". Several "episodes" of a series of conversations called "Benny's Ailment" can also be listened to in Deadly Shadows.
  • Basso the Boxman: A friend of Garrett's whom he rescued from a Hammerite prison. Garrett helps to rescue Basso's betrothed Jeneviere from indentured servitude in the first mission of Thief: The Metal Age.

The world of Thief

The universe of Thief is centered mostly on a dense, sprawling metropolitan complex known only as "The City." Garrett works with the underground economy of the City, making a lucrative living for himself. Occasionally Garrett would leave the confines of the City and rob mansions, prisons, or graveyards.


Throughout the series, Garrett employs the use of mêlée weapons, a wide array of arrow types, potions and tools to augment his abilities. These tend to serve one of three purposes:

  • Altering the environment to allow Garrett to be more stealthy (Water arrows, moss arrows, noisemakers)
  • Allowing Garrett into otherwise inaccessible locations (lockpicks, rope arrows, vine arrows, wall-climbing gloves)
  • Direct confrontation. Sometimes hostile (the sword, fire arrows, etc), sometimes pacifying (the blackjack, gas mines, etc).

The most notable mêlée weapon is the Blackjack, a small club that Garrett uses to hit people over the back of the head and knock them unconscious. It's the quietest and cleanest weapon in the game, and as such is the most useful weapon in Garrett's arsenal. On the other hand, it is next to useless if the target has already been alerted to Garrett's presence.

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